Looking after your 4WD during wildlife photographic safaris
These tips come from books we have read, experienced 4x4 drivers we have listened to, and our own bitter experience.
This photo summarises the worst experience we have had in our travels. The river Kwai in Moremi in Botswana had flooded that year. Leaving Savuti I followed the path along the river but soon this changed into muddy tracks and then small pools.
I followed sound advice and first walked the pools to feel how firm the ground was. This technique always worries me and I walk worrying about what depth of water crocodiles prefer and what lurks in the surrounding grass. My wife and I travel alone and so its an extra bit scary. I misjudged the size of a pool which around the bend became a small lake with submerged trees. I panicked and instead of reversing back tried to do a tight circle and ended up bogged down in black cotton mud. Even in low gear 4x4, and front and rear differentials locked we did not move.
Marianne reminded me about an article she had read that I must not turn of the engine or water would be sucked into the pistons. So with the engine running slowly on the manual choke I climbed out. Mud clawed at every part of the underbody, and digging with a shovel didnt seem to help. Raising the car first in the front and then the rear with an éxhaust jack (green balloon under rear bumper bottom left) allowed me to place our rubber floor mats as well as long rubber sand ladders under the wheels. But no movement and I learnt that these helpful aids in sand are useless in the wet when tyres just slip. I then tried chopping down small trees to get logs of wood to place under the wheels. They were too small and all I did was lose my sandals and collect thorns of submerged acacia trees in my feet. The thorns also punctured the exhaust jack in 6 places, but luckily holes were small and air leaks insignificant. After trying unsuccesfully for 3 hours I used our satellite phone to call in help.
rangers arrived with builder's scaffolding planks, and two hours later, after much digging and pushing by all of us, the senior game warden forcefully drove the car through 80 meters of mud and water out onto the path.
In summary, don't go into water.
If you must then check for water in your front and rear differentials as soon as possible afterwards.
Essential to buy or hire a satellite telephone. We use the Iridium system, which has worked well. The phone is expensive and you have to renew airtime yearly, but it is an essential tool to get help for sick cars and ill people, especially if you travel alone in deserted places. The reception can be disturbed by tall trees and buildings.
We have not bought a winch, and it would not have helped as there were no large nearby trees firmly anchored into the mud. probably of more value when two or more cars travelling in convoy. We have now replaced the exhaust jack with a Hilift jack; the reasons for this will be discussed later
A stitch in time
Before annual trip revise instructions on equipment that not regularly used e.g.Hilift jack, & store all instruction sheets in a folder & PDF files.Service or check recovery equipment working before starting on trip e.g. e.g. hilift jacks are greasy and get clogged with dust, in the engine bay our air compressor's on/off switch gets clogged with grime. Renew supply of usables e.g. batteries and tire puncture plugs (see photo).
In crowded landcruiser equipment propped everywhere. A small self supporting shelf to fit on the side of our fridge and created new storage layers so that our emergency kit: jack, tools, first aids etc can be reached without totally unpacking the car each time!!! (Thanks to our good friend Sven Plogger (sadly died in 2015) for welding it together). My hands clearly illustrate the value of using gloves or keeping a cleansing solution in s side pocket.
In Moremi National Park a young lion chased a hippopotamus, who disappeared into the river Kwai. Frustrated he vented his anger on us. He strolled to the rear of our car, which suddenly lurched forward for a moment. Back in camp we found these massive punctures in our rear spare tire made by the canines of his lower jaw. 5-6 tire plugs in each hole were needed to temporarily repair the ruined tire for use in the bush.
We have seen the results of this behaviour from lions "playing" in the Kgalagadi but apparently the "game" is going viral.
Richterveld Transfrontier Park is extremely rugged. Some sections of the paths are not only difficult but also scary i.e. Hells Kloof (not shown here). We try to keep away from adventure trails but do undertake trips if the photographic potential is special.
We did a novices 4x4 course & have manuals with us (especially recommended is the one by Andrew St .Pierre White). I reread relevant technical chapters before undertaking any route.
Here I just want to stress the dangers of overturning on inclined paths. Of course one will travel slowly but be wary of overloading (inset stresses this point: we saw this extremely overloaded pickup returning to Mozambique). On our roof rack we have the tent, gas cylinder, spare tire, and 3 X 20L diesel jerry cans. On difficult roads, we try to keep the jerry cans empty if distance allows and reliable filling stations are to be found en route. We have replaced the main standard 90L diesel tank of the LC76 SW with a 165L main diesel tank.This of course not only gives us long range but lowers the center of gravity.
Remember fuel consumption rises in 4WD so record your consumption in various conditions. Our tank was imported from Australia by the LCSA (a great club to join for free). I strongly recommend that LC drivers from overseas join this club for friendly advice from very experienced enthusiasts on all aspects of overlanding in Africa ( http://www.landcruiserclub.co.za).
There are many burnt out 4WD's spread out thru the veld of Africa.
The trigger of the fire can be a spark from a short in the complicated electrical systems e.g seat heating many modern 4WDs have. This is one reason the "basic" LC76SW (shown) is popular with 4WD enthusiasts .
Fire can also be due to overheating of the engine because of limited air flow through a radiator that is clogged by grass seeds from high grass on unused paths. This risk of course increases as kindle from dry grass stems and leaves accumulates under the car, especially around a hot exhaust pipe. Regular stops, depending on the conditions e.g every 5 kms can be necessary and a long piece of wire is essential equipment, needed to reach difficult places (see inset).
Always be be on the alert for smoke and the smell of smouldering grass. Remove the radiator net when not needed as it can itself cause overheating at higher speeds by blocking air flow. Also check the radiator net is low enough on your grill or bull bar.
We have a fire extinguisher safely held between the front seats. Always check its pressure gauge before your trip.
Bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble
It took 2 years and 3 replacement batteries before the cause of chronic gassing and acid bubbling from the main auxiliary battery in the engine bay was detected. Problems started when the dual charger battery system was fitted by a 4x4 company. This front auxiliary battery was the only one bubbling gas and spitting acid (engine bay area under battery had to be resprayed). In the bush emergency treatment was Rennies antacid tablets and lots of water. Later testing showed the alternator was not overcharging; and so overheating in that area of engine bay, a malfunctioning escape valve of the maintenance free battery, as well as leakage due to the top buckling from excessive tightening of the battery bracket retaining bar were suggested as possible causes by many advisors. It went on and on until I asked for an explanation of the electrical circuit and how to disconnect the battery if it played up on on an upcoming trip to Tanzania.Two blown 100 amp circuit fuses, 5 minutes into the demo and the cause was diagnosed. It was all due to the incorrect polarity of the connection of this battery & the "well hidden" second auxiliary battery in the rear.Phew, it was not fun phoning from the deep bush again and again to ask for advice.
Again stresses need for a satellite telephone if you travel solo & the need to thoroughly & systematically check work done, even when performed by experts.
A very grave digger
Near Xhumaga in Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana our LC76SW got badly stuck in deep sand. A lot of hard digging was needed to get out.
Check your hired car does have shovel, Hilift jack, air compressor and pressure gauge and test them before you drive off!!!!!!!.
(a) First try not to get stuck:- 1. Do an introductory 4WD course 2.choose a route appropriate for your experience, go into 4WD (remember to lock front hubs if older manual setting required), and lower tire pressures by 20% for sandy paths. Also pick up enough speed to crest a dune (easier said than done
(b)If you do get stuck:-
1.lower pressure further (remember under 0.8 bar the tires may slip off their rims) 2.Increase spread of power: go into 4WD low, and engage both front and rear differentials, 3. Lower resistance by digging away sand around wheels and lower body parts and placing floor mats or special sand mats under tires (we use flexible rubber ladder strips because can be stored extended under tent's base on roof rack). 4. Gently pull away getting wife to push from behind!! Rocking gently back and forth may help firm up the path. 5. If these simpler techniques do not work you may need to raise the car and place any support you can find under wheels e.g. rocks, branches. You can use either a Hi-Lift jack or an exhaust jack for this purpose. Most people will not use these potentailly dangerous pieces of equipment very often. I will discuss them briefly later as seperate tips. Do check for animals while concentrating on your task.
TOP TIP:- warm up & stretch first!!
Old age adventurers must remember to care for their backs before caring for the tires. Warm up and stretching exercises are essential before bending and straining and then lifting heavy 4x4 tires!!
As shown even I can still bend enough to reinflate the tires when we get out of heavy sand (our compressor is built into the engine bay).
Its a different story when you have to loosen tire nuts tightened by mechanics 50 years younger (dont forget to tell them tell them that when you buy new tires, and get yourself an extending wheel spanner!) My back went the first time I tried to change our 4WD's puncture. Luckily we were in a camp when my back went, otherwise we would still be there in the bush. So warm up and stretch first before doing tire maintenance. '
Come to think of it this is my only original tip after 7 years of roughing it solo!
Couple of extra points: check your air compressor is working, when you hire your 4WD, before you leave the agent, and make sure that, the right size spanners for the wheel and also the hilift jack holder clamp are present. Check the pressure gauge was'nt won in a lucky packet.
By the way that blue shirt has now been retired because it is the favourite colour of tsetse flies!! edit
Heard the story about the goatherder & the academic?
This San guide, Xontae Xhao, also taught us a great deal about rock paintings and his life growing up in the Tsodilo Hills, a world heritage site in Botswana.
But this story is about another man, a goatherder in Namibia. We were travelling along a very stony road through the mountains, on the way to Sossiusvlei, when i heard an ominous flapping noise. Yes, we had a very flat tire. In those days I changed the tire, whereas now I would first try to plug the puncture. So I put the car in gear, pulled the handbrake, and firmly placed large stones at the other 3 wheels to prevent rolling. I then raised the car with its standard jack. After removing the tire I placed it under the chassis next to the hub in case the car tilted onto its side.
Now the problems started. The road inclined from left to right & I could not get the much larger inflated tire onto the hub, even with the jack fully extended. Priding myself on years of logical thought(?), I reasoned out my strategy. First try to make the tire smaller by delating it! Of course this was the first stupid move. A compliant balloon will collapse from external air pressure if you let the air out, but not a rigid rubber tire unless the weight of the car is pushing down on it. So I thought my next logical step was to raise the car even higher using our balloon exhaust jack. The car rapidly went up high enough but as I broke into a proud smile it tilted over, luckily not crashing onto the hub due to the support of the flat tire under the chassis (one point to me!). I was now scared and decided to put the flat tire back on, drive to a level bit of road and change the tire. Luckily an old goat herder with a log stick approached with about 50 goats. He climbed over the barbed wire fence and listened patiently to my plan in my broken Afrikaans. He then said "nee baas" and took the wheel spanner and dug a hole under the hub to make more room for the wheel. You can raise a car, try to make a tire smaller, or lower the road!!!!
The tire was on in a jiffy and were on our way, With me, red faced musing about the positions we achieve in life, and the goat herder, now the richest in Namibia, leading his herd over the hill. I was so bemused that I unfortunately forgot to take his picture.
So if you are ever in Europe and you see holes on the highways you can assume I have repaired a flat tire based on my experiences in Africa. Yep, I am not logical but I am a quick learner! When I try to tell the story, people who were in the army interrupt the punch line of my story with the correct solution. edit
Lifting your car (part 1): Hi-Lift jack
When stuck in sand, mud or a ditch, and simpler methods have not been successful the use of a Hi-Lift jack can be essential.
This is not often necessary and thus most people remain inexperienced in the technique, and this makes the equipment potentially dangerous. The danger with this method is, as well as the car tilting, is that the handle can shoot up if if not held or clipped in place when jacking up the car!!It is essential to have the technique thoroughly explained and demonstrated if you are hiring a 4WD.
Check that all the moving parts e.g. climbing pins & reverse latch (see photograph & click on image to enlarge it) are not rusty or blocked, and are well lubricated. Also watch videos on U tube e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxyvKdV2IEU&feature=related, before starting your safari and always revise the safety instructions just before using it.
As with any method of raising the car the handbrake must be on and the wheels blocked using rocks or branches.
Check that your car has front e.g. built into the bull bar and rear insertion points (see photograph: we added these hollow bars as an extra rather than fit a new rear bumper). There is also a jacking strap available whereby the HiLift can be attached to one of the wheels.
Invest in an extra wider base plate or use a wide wooden plank to prevent jack sinking into soft sand or mud. Use your shovel to level the ground if necessary to ensure jack is vertical or car will tilt over.
In any case never climb under car which is raised on a jack as it is never stable! After raising the reverse latch (see photograph) the car is raised by lowering and raising the handle (the climbing pins go up in & out of the holes in the bar). Wear gloves and remember it is essential to hold the handle with both hands and keep your head out of the way at all times. Only stop the jacking movement when you have raised the handle and locked it to the bar using the safety clip (see photograph).
Then add in the mats, rocks, etc. To lower the car, again carefully grip the handle with one hand, reverse the latch by pushing downwards and then again raise and lower the handle always using both hands until the car is safely down. See the manufacturers PDF for detailed explanations, warnings, and instructions http://www.hi-lift.com).
Lifting your car (part 2): Air (Exhaust) Jack
This is a reinforced bag is inflated using exhaust gasses with the engine running idle &/or a tire air compressor.
We use the Takla air bag because it offers these dual inflation methods: using the exhaust gasses is faster but the tire compressor offers greater control. The dual inflation method is a major advantage if the exhaust leaks. In some air bags the exhaust connection is made via a cone pushed tight over the exhaust opening, but Takla uses a rubber bung which is placed inside the exhaust and then rotated until the fit is tight (see diagram, click to enlarge). Do check that the supplied bung is the right diameter for your car’s exhaust pipe (I requested reserves of different sizes in order to help other cars)! I had this problem when I changed my car from a Prado to a LCSW 76! The bung system has a distal bolt which compresses the rubber bung when the hose is rotated thus expanding the bung and sealing the exhaust: we lost this essential bolt in the river, so request reserves!!
The Hi-Lift jack is more commonly used; probably because it is easier to store, by fixing it to the rear tire holder or the side of a roof rack (on the front of the bull bar is not recommended for safety reasons). Although the air jack compresses easily it has a broad base & we find storage a problem and fix it on top of the second spare tire on the roof rack, which makes it easy to steal. However, because of the potential danger of being hit by the Hi-Lift’s handle the air jack does appeal to some users.
Once again it is essential to have the technique thoroughly explained and demonstrated if you are hiring a 4WD. Also watch videos on U tube e.g. before starting your safari (always revise the safety instructions just before using it). As with any method of raising the car the handbrake must be on and the wheels chocked using rocks &/or branches. Unlike with the HI-Lift jack the car must be in neutral to run the engine so carefully chock the supporting wheels. Its broad base prevents it sinking into sand & mud & thus a support plate is not needed. Use your shovel to level the ground & improve stability.
Protective mats placed on top and beneath bag (e.g. car floor mats) will prevent punctures from stones or protruding car edges. Be careful not to place the bag itself near the hot exhaust or under weak parts e.g. fuel tank.
The bag should not be placed in the rear or the front i.e. lifting both right & left rear wheels simultaneously as may tilt over on its side. The position of the bag in my photo is thus wrong (!!) and the potential consequences are shown in the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hc7Tni99dlQ. Rather place the bag on the right or left side of the car between the front & rear wheel http://www.bushranger.com.au)
Never climb under the car when is raised on a jack as it is never stable! When the bag just sufficiently inflated to raise the wheels turn of compressor, or engine from open door & fill in hole with rocks, sand, branches & cover with sand ladder as top layer. To lower the car, undo the exhaust connection to the bag. Keep your face away as the exhaust fumes are of course toxic. Remember to keep bag clean and check for punctures e.g. from thorns (check you have the supplied puncture kit with you before starting trips).
Plugging a puncture in a tubeless tire
Unfortunately you will probably have a puncture on your safari. We thus carry two spare tires (on rear door & on roof rack), & a tire repair kit to plug the puncture. Check that you are indeed fitted with tubeless tires before you start trying to plug a puncture!!!!! There was confusion on this point with the landcruiser 76SW owners. Because changing a tire, especially with the spare on the roof rack is a big job for the old we prefer to first try & plug the hole. If the puncture is due to a penetrating object thorn or nail we localise the hole visually using soapy water to look for escaping air, & then remove the cause with a pliers e.g. leatherman. Plugging is only safe when the puncture in the tread, & should not be done if hole in sidewall (note that plugging is always regarded as unsafe in some European countries & not allowed). However when deep in the African bush even plugging a hole in the sidewall might be needed as a temporary repair. In fact some experts recommend that even plugs in the tread should eventually be replaced with an internal mushroom plug. This will allow experts to also assess if tire has suffered extra damage along its steel cords. On one occassion this internal inspection showed that the nail had indeed badly damaged the innner part of the tire.
Inflate the tire to help insert the plug i.e. pressure keeps hole open. Insert the reamer & out repeatedly to clean & enlarge the hole. Try & follow the same direction of the original penetrating object. Then leave reamer in hole to prevent air escaping while you thread the cord through the insertion needle until both sides of equal length (this is a bit of a job & it helps to lubricate the cord with the supplied vulcanising lubricant). Now the real work begins as it is hard work to force the needle & cord through the puncture hole at times. You may need to enlarge hole or ask some young traveller for help! This is the one disadvantage of doing this job without removing the tire Your wrist & arm are not at an optimal angle, and you cannot use your body weight. Furthermore if the hole is on inner part of tread you may have to reverse car and lie down to insert plug i.e.lying down behind tire. Front tires easier as can improve insertion angle by turning steering wheel. In fact in future I might have to change my ideas & remove the tire for puncture repair as I get weaker. Insert cord until 2/3 of it is in the tire & then without twisting jank the needle out. The gap in the needle allows the cord to slip from the needle & remain behind
Check that repaired hole is no longer leaking with soapy water, & no other holes present, discard nail in a safe place, & inflate tire to correct pressure.
Remember to buy a sturdy kiit e.g. the one from ARB. http://www.arb.com.au/products/general-accessories/tyre-accessories) is available in South Africa at for example 4x4 Megaworld Some kits sold in supermarkets are too fragile for thick 4WD tires. See video for helpful instruction http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ElQ28Waxzc&feature=related
Important notes about your your car
1. An arrow at the top of your steering wheel:- This will help remind you to straighten your front wheels. Mark position when they are pointing straight ahead i.e. normal parking position. Just helps when struggling in deep sand & mud. It is hard to get out forewars or backwards if front wheels at 90 degrees to your intended travel axis! Easy to forget this simple but essential point when struggling in 4x4 to get out of your mired position.
2. Head lights left on again:- I keep doing this when we leave at first light from our camp, especially when we encounter an exciting sighting. I have the national luna dual battery system which has an alarm. Unfortunately I find that when it goes off I have insufficient charge to start the battery. Even the sytems overide to use the power of the auxiliarry batteries has failed because of the National Luna's connecting fuses shorting during the procedure.
3. release handbrake:- Not only have I done this on the road but now in Savuti crossed the marsh stream with the handbrake o!! I have name this crossing near Motsipi island "Handbrake crossing" in honour of my stupidity.
4.Hublocks left on:- I have done this, after travelling for a long while in sand, when we reach the tarmac. This will occur if hubs locked automatically or manually. I find the warning light is unfortunately hidden behind the steering wheel in our car. Luckily I realised this before damage done by winding up the differentials. The wheels cannot slip on unyielding tar surfaces.
I must confess that despite these warning signs & attempts to get into a habit of always checking whenever i stop the car I still get caught out. The best is to get your partner to help you remember these essential matters